(McGaha and Nickell's Solution Found Lacking)

For everyone who has performed a thorough, honest, open-minded investigation of this case.

This paper is a critique of a thesis by James McGaha and Joe Nickell which has recently appeared on the Internet. Their trumpeting concerning that thesis is "CSI | ‘Exeter Incident’ Solved! A Classic UFO Case, Forty-Five Years ‘Cold’ - One of the great unsolved UFO cases . . . snip . . . has at long last succumbed to investigation. The 1965 Exeter mystery is now explained." It was originally published in Volume 35.6 November/December 2011 of CSI's "Skeptical Inquirer."

As their headline indicates, it is well-known the 1965 Exeter case has resisted solution for years. Those familiar with Exeter are well-aware virtually every thoughtful, reasonable researcher having studied it has been forced to accept the fact it doesn't lend itself to prosaic solution. If McGaha and Nickell have solved the whole thing, this would be an impressive feat. To be credited with this by the research community however, it is required their effort must be carefully examined to see if they have actually achieved what they are claiming. Until that time, we have to refer to them simply as hypothesists.

N.B. For analytical expedience, from this point on I am going to refer to our two new hypothesists, as M&N, to make it easier to refer to their work.

Being familiar with the Exeter case and having previously critiqued another author's efforts on it a number of years ago, I decided to review both the case itself and M&N's endeavor to see what new information the two gentlemen might possibly be bringing to the table, and if they have actually solved it. Unfortunately, after a fairly thorough examination, and then considering all its ballyhoo, the answer turns out to be a surprising no, they have not! (Actually, not so surprising. - N.B. The bold letters are simply a fair response to their own loud, but completely erroneous proclamation.) Let's take a look together.

Their piece, published in the CSICOP journal, appears at the link immediately below.


Click here if unavailable for any reason: (note to self - add link.)


I've jotted a general outline of M&N's Exeter hypothesis below and appended each with what I believe are some pertinent comments and information within various URLs in support of those comments. Simply click the URLs to go directly to the support.

Their hypothesis contains . . . :

1) M&N's version of the Incident: (jc: which unfortunately, has mixed secondary with original sources, thus allowing some inaccuracies to creep in.)

One Example: Although their thesis says a woman Bertrand met before going out with Muscarello "pointed to a bright light on the horizon" which he "watched for a short time and then left" (in their article in the Skeptical Inquirer, this phrase does not appear in the original source materia.; (John Fuller's book - p. 10 circled, Bertrand's written statement published by Hynek, or the or the 1967 Look Magazine article.)

The original wording in John Fuller's book states (p. 10) "he had come across a car parked on the bypass, a lone woman at the wheel. Trying to keep her composure, she had said that a huge, silent, airborne object had trailed her from the town of Epping, twelve miles away, only a few feet from her car. It had brilliant, flashing red lights. When she had reached the overpass, it suddenly took off at tremendous speed and disappeared among the stars." "I thought she was a kook," Bertrand told Toland, "So I didn't even bother to radio it in."

As is well-known to serious researchers, the most accurate accounts of the incident(s) exist in the case's prime-sources; The original 1965 Exeter police log, John Fuller's book, "Incident at Exeter," researched and published 3-4 months after the actual incident(s), and especially, Raymond Fowler's prior meticulous investigation of same for NICAP. Fowler's investigation was the foundation of John Fuller's book (along with Fuller's own personal, *on-location* re-investigation which included face to face, tape-recorded interviews with witnesses.

Also considered principal are Project Blue Book's version of the case, and Dr. J. Allen Hynek's analysis. Hynek, 20 year consultant to USAF, had indicated that Fowler's report had been used extensively by the Air Force to secure data on same, and that Fowler actually did a far better job investigating the case than did Blue Book. These were the prime-researchers and research.

2) M&N's listing of previous solutions which were found untenable:

(jc: These appeared accurate, however they would need to be examined for completeness.)

-Astronomical: "The astronomical evaluation is completely untenable." . . . J Allen Hynek
-Glare of airport landing lights: Tested and found to have "no effect."
-Air Force Operation (Big Blast): concluded almost an hour before the actual Muscarello sighting
-Advertising plane: was not flying at the time and had no red flashing lights
-Corona discharge from power lines: could not explain the incident and Klass backed away from this
-Prank with lighted kite (Odd-ball time to put on a hoax)
jc: and just one of a number of elements which seem to eliminate that as a reasonable solution. One can view a fairly complete summation of those elements at a URL at the end of this electronic paper. *
-Other objects: helicopter, balloon, civilian plane:

jc: Virtually all not fitting either what the witnesses described or the general circumstances for each sighting.

3) Arguments concerning Witness Misperceptions:

a) M&N: Lights so bright, witnesses could not make out the shape of the UFO.

(jc: However, to those familiar with the many witness descriptions, this was certainly _not_ true in all the cases. Awareness of those descriptions practically forces one to ask the following: "Have M&N really looked closely at those descriptions, or are they seeing only what they want to see?")

b) M&N: Not knowing size, altitude, distance from the viewer, a witness has no basis for estimating any of these factors.

(jc: Some other examples of not being true in all of the cases.)

c) M&N: Frightened people can't accurately identify things.

(jc: Not totally true as a general rule. Many people have been convicted of crimes when identified by very frightened people, when actual surrounding circumstances, etc. verify the things they described.)

N.B. Additionally, there were several Exeter witnesses not frightened who filed reports


4) M&N's major solution: A KC- 97 performing refueling maneuvers. It has 5 red lights which were reflecting off a boom that was inclined at sixty-four degrees.

(jc: Of course, how big the plane(s) and that reflection would actually look from the ground, how much red light would hit the ground, and how loud the plane(s) would sound if it were actually closer then a 15,000 ft. height . . . are several interesting glitches in, and problems with their theory. We'll discuss more about this below.)

5) M&N: Why didn't the Pentagon solve the case at the time? The Pentagon didn't realize this operation could be mistaken for what people thought they saw, so someone overlooked it.

(jc: i.e. The "inept Air Force Theory" . . we're asked to believe the AF didn't know what operations of theirs were in progress at the time and what might possibly be misidentified. This researcher believes that is highly unlikely.)

and, M&N's references (bibliography)

- - -

FURTHER ANALYSIS BY COHENUFO: (digging a little deeper)

No, we don't need the Large Hadron Collider to perform this analysis, folks. This is just a tribute to the people who have recently announced finding what they believe may be the Higgs Boson (Higgs Particle.) THEY are true scientists . . . working as a team, creating tools, cross-checking their efforts, and sparing no time or expense to dig as deeply as necessary to figure out various hidden workings of the universe.

Examining M&N's Proposal

Unfortunately, M&N do not fall into this category. It is obvious from what we've seen above, scientists they are not. While reading their thesis, I immediately realized what the two gentlemen were proposing actually had very little substance to it. Please note, the main reason I am writing this critique is because I know some people out there might tend to be impressed by M&N's listed credentials and might actually be led to think their combined technical expertise and insight is therefore sufficient to have solved the whole thing. Actually, it should have been but wasn't.

Some Homework Of My Own
Looking on the Internet for any possible discussions concerning their new piece, I came across a comment made by researcher Don Ledger in a post he made to UFO UpDates. It highlighted a major problem concerning M&N's contention that what Muscarello and the policemen were actually describing was a KC-97 going through refueling maneuvers. Here's what Ledger had to say:


>>>From: Don Ledger <dledger.nul>
>>>To: <post.nul>
>>>Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2012 13:43:13 -0300
>>>Subject: Exeter Case 'Solved'

>>>. . . snip . . .

>>>Apparently the 60 to 100 foot wide, blood-red object that
>>>eighteen-year-old Norman Muscarello and Police Officer Eugene
>>>Bertrand saw arising from the trees a few hundred feet away can
>>>be easily explained by the director lights on a refuelling
>>>tanker at twenty thousand feet.

<End Quote>

N.B. Ledger's comment was made in amazement that anyone would seriously propose this. Let's take a look at the totality of the case.

Here is my own summation of a few of the problems with M&N's solution:
(Unfortunately, the only way their theory might be plausible is if we suspend all rational thought.)

1st problem with M&N's proposal:

One of the first things which immediately caught my eye: I knew Exeter consisted of a number of sightings over several days time and that, as M&N themselves stated within their thesis, there were approximately sixty witnesses. As I read, it hit me that M&N were pretty much attempting to explain the whole case away by basically focusing on only one of the sightings and suggesting that the rest of the people were obviously frightened and misperceiving what they reported. To those really familiar with the case and the lengthy research performed on it, this is totally ridiculous. Most knowledgeable researchers know this suggestion doesn't hold water. Some reasons have already been pointed out by and within my URLs above. Here are some further problems.

2nd problem with M&N's proposal:

If one asks himself how small a plane would look to an observer on the ground, when it is flying at the generally mandated height for an exercise of this type (approximately 15,000 ft?), one immediately realizes the absurdity of this suggested solution. Are two policemen and a civilian really going to be fooled by something that normally looks that small in the sky because it suddenly appeared to them as a silent, large red object, with no wings or tail, which popped out of the trees and lit up an entire field and two nearby houses with bright red light? Think about this . . . has anyone ever seen a plane at 15,000 ft. look as big or bigger than a house while it is simultaneously illuminating an area that wide on the ground with any kind of light, let alone "extremely bright red?" (See: A 9, Pease Report Sept. 15, 1965) It just doesn't happen. So, why propose it in the first place? It simply makes no sense . . . scientific or otherwise . . . especially when combined with the next issue.

3rd problem with their proposal:

Noise level of the plane(s) in flight is certainly a very important factor. A KC-97 is a 4-engine plane and definitely not quiet. Even if one postulates the plane(s) in this hypothetical refueling formation were actually flying much LOWER than normal for whatever reason, we can easily see this does not fit the reported fact the object seen was testified to as being basically silent. (This last fact appeared in the original police report concerning Muscarello and Bertrand and in their letters to the Air Force.) It is also important to note, the police log concerning this particular incident also indicates that it happened at approximately 3am.

Three related questions:

a) How low would the plane(s) have to fly to be mistaken for an approximately 60-100 ft. wide bright red object?

b) If the plane(s) was lower, thus appearing that big, would it sound louder or softer to those on the ground?

c) Since it is relatively quiet at 3 AM, why didn't the three witnesses to Muscarello's incident hear it?

Obvious answer: The hypothesized plane couldn't have been both that low and silent at the same time. Therefore, what they saw and described was no plane. This immediately nullifies their hypothesis and substantiates failure of their solution.

4th problem:

The event didn't just happen just once to Norman Muscarello (civilian witness) when he was alone. It happened a second time approximately 3/4 - 1 hour later when officer Eugene Bertrand brought Muscarello back to the original scene intending to prove to Muscarello he was imagining things, and yet this time Bertrand, who was intending to lay the whole thing to rest, experienced the same thing with him. Does this really make sense?

5th problem:

Bertrand worked with KC-97's when in the service. He was familiar with them and had the following to say concerning it in a second letter the patrolmen had written to the Air Force following their incident. (Hynek published these. See letter 2, paragraph 2.) I believe the fact Betrand worked with refueling planes would probably make him likely to identify that type operation, if that could have been the cause of what they all witnessed. However, both officers were certain what they saw was not that.

6th problem: In the Pease Report, section K, Major David H. Griffin, Base Disaster Control Officer, Command pilot writes:

1) at this time I have been unable to arrive at a probable cause of this sighting. The three observers seem to be stable, reliable persons, especially the two patrolmen. I viewed the area of the sighting and found nothing in the area that could be the probable cause. Pease AFB had five B-47 aircraft flying in the area during this period but I do not believe that they had any connection with this sighting.

Ignoring or missing the above important points:

It would seem McGaha and Nickell somehow missed or ignored these primary, and fairly obvious points. Yet, they have loudly proclaimed a solution for the case. The real question is . . . if they were really giving it honest, serious, scientific thought, how could they possibly have missed the above six points? Is their science that bad? . . . especially problems 1, 2 and 3. Also, does it seem as though they really read the truly critical witness testimonies?

BTW, at this point if anyone still isn't convinced M&N's theory doesn't fly (most likely, some CSI members), he/she can take a look at the in-depth technical aspects of same offered by researcher Martin Shough who responded to that previous UFO UpDates post-snippet by Ledger.


Shough agreed with Ledger and gave some throughly pertinent technical reasons why McGaha and Nickell's proposals fail to support their claim regarding the above police-witnessed sighting. It is once again to be noted that even if that one case (Muscarello's) was explained, the rest of the cases in that Exeter grouping would still need to be addressed and solved as well. One must understand it is the overall totality of the summation of all the incidents, involving mostly unrelated people, which have defied most researchers best efforts when attempting to generate prosaic explanations for the 1965 sightings around Exeter. Any honest researcher having performed thorough research is well-aware of this fact.

N.B. Upon reaching this point, to be certain I had been accurate in my portrayal of M&N's position concerning this case, I re-read their post once more to make certain I wasn't misrepresenting them before printing this. I found I was correct. One can click immediately below to see this for yourself, if you haven't already.




J. Allen Hynek's Workup on Exeter:

Since J. Allen Hynek was USAF's main civilian scientist, hired specifically to debunk UFO sightings, it would be logical to think one would look Hynek's name up in Google to see what he had to say concerning Exeter.

Placing the two words . . hynek exeter . . into Google and pressing return retrieves a page upon which the first three entries comprise Hynek's workup on the case. They include an accurate version of his research regarding the witness reports, several signed statements by the police officers involved, etc. This information was taken directly from Hynek's book, The UFO Report and was posted on the Internet many years ago. Did M&N bother to check any of this? . . . . it does not appear so.

Clicking immediately below will bring up that workup

Although Blue Book's report says "the most interesting sighting, in the nearby town of Exeter, aroused special interest as two policemen saw the object at very close range," most of those actually familiar with Fuller and Fowler's investigation of Exeter have discovered that Muscarello's wasn't the only close-range sighting. As we saw from some of my URLs above, some of the other witnesses accounts were certainly as interesting and perplexing as Norman Muscarello's. Therefore, when all the reports are taken in context, one is brought to realize something highly extraordinary did occur around Exeter, N.H. in 1965. Whatever it was, it definitely was not a KC-97.

SUMMATION: I am sorry to have to report that the low level of investigation M&N have performed on the Exeter case, especially with their obvious lack of familiarity with witness statements and the fact they didn't bother to test their hypothesis, is simply unacceptable to anyone who has spent any significant time on same. M&N's lack of research makes any knowledgeable person realize what they have done really isn't worth a plug Nickell.

I don't believe I have overstated my criticism here in the least. Please consider the following:


So we ask you, the thoughtful reader . . .

1) Have M&N shown real familiarity with the case itself? Answer: no. (See numbers 1 & 3 click here.)

2) Have they shown familiarity with and respect for others previous efforts in solving the case?

Is it showing respect if one falsely heralds a solution for a case without properly testing one's hypothesis? (i.e. under false pretense) It might not have been quite so offensive if they had at least put a mute in their trumpet. (For those not knowing much about music, that means . . . make your trumpeting a little softer, thus demonstrating a little more respect for the research community who would be judging their thesis upon publishing on the Internet.)

3) Is their work really scientific? Answer: You tell me. (Please see 1, 2, 3, 4 in "Problems")

4) Should it have been?

Of course it should . . . they are members of CSI (Committee for Scientific Investigation?), and it was published in CSI's journal.

I respectfully ask: What happened to the Scientific part of their investigation? Did anyone check this before printing it? What does this say about CSI as an organization, and how much respect has CSI garnered for publishing and supporting this piece by M&N concerning Exeter? Is this the type of investigation most of us want to see performed on UFO cases?

Answer: We'll leave all that up to you, the reader, to decide for yourself. (While thinking, please see #2 here.) **

Additionally, what we've learned from this analysis tends to make one suspicious of Nickell's other researching efforts. It is perfectly fair to state . . . those should probably be examined very carefully for similar omissions.


I truly believe skeptical thought regarding the UFO topic is extremely important. I am not against it . . . I actually crave it; honest, intelligent skeptical thought, that is. The type skepticism I just mentioned can definitely help us thrash through the intricacies of some of these difficult cases and decide which cases may actually still be truly inexplainable.

What I happen to find interesting at this moment . . . the lack of available solution to this mass-sighting case points out an obvious flaw in Jenny Randles general theorem that "the more witnesses there are, the less-likely it is to be a UFO." This same lack of solution (dating back to 1965 in this instance concerning Exeter) also seems to support my hypothesis, "Someone is and has been observing us for a long period of time."

Thank you CSI, for your help in this regard. I guess you are providing a service.

Jerry Cohen


* For further explanation of why lighted kites do not explain the Exeter sightings, please click here.

** For other ramifications of Mcgaha and Nickell's failure to solve Exeter, please click here.



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